chapter  8
LES NUITS DE L'UNDERGROUND/NIGHTS IN THE UNDERGROUND AND HÉLOÏSE
Pages 26

In order to understand Quebec’s pervasive sense of being a colonized culture, one needs to know something of the prov­ ince’s history. It was colonized in the eighteenth century as part of New France and so was French-speaking from the begin­ ning. Then there was General Wolfe’s scaling of the Quebec Heights and his defeat of General Montcalm in 1759; in 1763 by the Treaty of Utrecht (at the end of another European war, the Seven Years’ War) Quebec passed to English sovereignty. The Quebecois call this ‘La Cession’ which nicely underlines the ambiguity of whether it was an English Conquest or a French Betrayal.1 Quebec has been haunted by its history as its motto ‘Je m’en souviens’ suggests. Seeing this on all the car registra­ tion plates from the province, I have often wondered just what it is they are remembering and more importantly how they are remembering, for their history is still a source of anguish to them. Quebec has sturdily resisted Anglicization and when by the 1867 British North America Act it was created as a separate province within the Dominion of Canada, it retained the right to use the French language in the national and provincial parliaments, a pyrrhic victory in a way for the language differ­ ence inevitably encouraged Quebec’s isolation from the rest of Canada and its inturned parochialism. But it did survive, and with the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s Quebec finally assumed a sense of its own ‘national’ identity. It was in the 1960s that ‘Quebecois’ came to replace ‘French-Canadian’ as a descriptive name for the people of the province, and of course such definitions are ideologically weighted:

In a period of world decolonization this instinct [to rid ourselves of traditional ideologies] makes us straightaway

universal. It is this which since 1960 has allowed us to be reborn to ourselves and the world; it is this intuition of a name - since it all began with a name - which has allowed us to rediscover, in all its reality, our true identity; an unam­ biguous name, a clear, transparent name, precise and hard, a name that concretely gives us back our sovereignty and reconciles us with ourselves: Quebecois 2

Quebec is not officially bilingual like the rest of Canada, for in 1977 French was established as the only official language of Quebec. Language is indeed crucially important for Quebec’s sense of its own separate identity within Canada; it has even been called Quebec’s national neurosis, for ‘anyone who has been brought up with constant language choices (home-language, school-language, hyper-correct international French, the foreign pressure of English and American) is bound to be sensitive to language’s power to shape reality.’3 It is this concern with language and its relation to cultural assump­ tions that currently engages the most radical Quebec feminist writers. I shall not be treating this nouvelle ecriture here, though arguably it is the most subversive and innovative women’s fiction being written in Canada at the present time, with its strong feminist urge towards deconstruction of patri­ archal ideologies and literary conventions. I am not discussing this new writing here for the very good reason that not much of it has been translated into English and because these post­ structuralist preoccupations are very French and not very English. There are currently some attempts to make this avant-garde feminist writing available to English readers, and the writers’ names to be noted are those of Nicole Brossard, Madeleine Gagnon, Louky Bersianik.4